Populism and Media: A Complex Relationship

D.Khaznadji

The readings from this week added another layer of complexity to the analysis of populism. The dissemination of populist rhetoric is not merely done through traditional political avenues. Özçetin suggests the importance of popular culture in shaping populist discourses. The case of the internationally praised historical drama Diriliş: Ertuğrul, which will be discussed in the following lines, is a good example. Postill asserts that populist communication is subject to a “dual hybridity” (old/new media and online/offline communication). Finally, I wish to talk about Neffati’s article on Zionism and Islamophobia in the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. The particularity of this case is that it offers an example where the populist discourse is not always happening from a top-down dynamic. 

Özçetin shows how popular culture can perfectly be in line with a political agenda. The case of Diriliş: Ertuğrul symbolizes the populist message of Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist message is centered around the primacy of the Sunni-Muslim majority and the betrayal of the Kemalist elite. As Özçetin stresses, the character of Ertuğrul is a representation of Erdoğan himself, who is supposedly fighting against the evil embodied in the elitist class. The success of this show on an international level shows how effective popular culture can be in promoting a political party’s message. 

When it comes to social media, Postill places them as part of a “dense web of highly diverse online and offline communication practices”, in addition to old and new communication practices (762). I liked the nuance brought by this article. Postill insists that social media are not only used by populist candidates but also by “establishment politicians”. When used with mainstream media, it can be a very powerful tool for politicians. As for the point about places like mosques being places of important political discourse, there is definitely truth to that. Such discourse, however, is not uniform. It is important to consider for example the differences in Islamic preaches in Muslim and non-muslim countries. Muslims living in the West might have a different understanding of what it means to be part of a nation than Muslims living in a country where the majority is Muslim. 

Finally, the case of Charlie Hebdo offers a good example of how actors that are outside of the government in power can be influential in shaping public opinion. Neffati states that Philippe Val, director of Charlie Hebdo, “manipulates readership” into thinking of Islam as inherently antisemitic, and by extension a threat to the French Republic. Among the many outrageous caricatures and drawings that the magazine published, one of them depicts Muslims as an alien coming to invade a free and secular Europe. The message here is clear, the Muslim community is an enemy that does not belong in France. Today, as French Muslims are increasingly pushed into choosing between their faith or their country, a media like Charlie Hebdo becomes an alternative way for the populist message of the French government to reach the people. 

Anti-Genderism and Right-Wing Populism: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

D.Khaznadji

The set of readings this week were quite interesting. While most of them established the connection between “gender ideology” and right-wing populism, I think the Paternotte article was useful in making us understand the distinct characteristics of each of them. As that article suggested, anti-gender mobilization originated from religious centers. When it comes to populism, it can be a powerful fuel for the former, but ultimately belong to a category of its own. Indeed, the particularity of populism, Paternotte and Kuhar argue, is that it does not have a “side”. The capacity of populism to be integrated into a variety of ideas reminded me of some of the earlier readings we have done this semester, specifically the notion that populism is often combined with an ideological host. 

There is definitely a correlation between the intensification of anti-gender sentiments and the rise of right-wing populism. The statistics provided by the article on the homophobic and transphobic hate crimes surge in England and Wales show that hate crimes have significantly increased in recent years. This increase has been associated with Brexit and its effects. 

It is interesting to see how in other countries like Spain or Poland, this hate is closely linked with the Church. As the Zuk article points out: “the language of religion permeates the language of politics and how the discourse of religious fundamentalists penetrates the homophobic discourse” (Zuk & Zuk 568). This notion got blended in right-wing populist rhetoric. Thus, LGBT people were cast as the epitome of debauchery and hedonism, and part of a corrupt elite “devoid of national Catholic values”.

The case of Poland is worth looking at. The Zuk article asserts that the public opinion is generally in favor of those constraining laws became it is a good “compromise”. This speaks to the tactic used by the government in place. Zuk argues that when “facing the threat of an even more repressive law, the public is much more likely to accept the existing repressive regulations and even considers them to be a ‘compromise’” (Zuk & Zuk 570). This is what Paternotte and Kuhar have determined to be the “politics of fear”, which consists of inspiring fear in the hearts of people based on real or imagined dangers. As a result of all this, attempts from the left to change public opinion and to liberalize the law have been unsuccessful. 

That being said, it is important to mention that Paternotte and Kuhar insist on the fact that gender ideology and right-wing populism are not exactly two sides of the same coin. While anti-gender ideology originated from the Church and addressed concerns that were prevalent in religious centers, populism is not always in line with such an idea. Interestingly, some populists endorse LGBT rights to stigmatize specific groups of people like migrants or Muslims. 

The notion of populism being ideologically flexible took me back to readings from the early weeks. One of them explained how the group targeted by populists is defined not by wealth, class or race, but by having the wrong values. One of the core ideas of populism is to protect the homogenous group of the majority against any threat from the inside or outside. Hence, it can take on a variety of forms, and stand against any ideology that is deemed alien. This is why you can have populists adopting anti-LGBT rhetoric in one place and pro-LGBT rhetoric in another. In the end, it all depends on who is the target. 

F.C. Barcelona: When a Football Team Becomes the Voice of Catalonia’s Independence

D.Khaznadji

In his official presentation earlier this week, Xavi Hernandez, the new coach of the superpower club F.C. Barcelona, stated: “Visca Barca y Visca Catalunya!” (Long live Barcelona and long live Catalonia).

While Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Spain, why exactly did Xavi associate the well-being of F.C. Barcelona with Catalonia’s? What is the reason behind this seemingly overt political declaration? The answer lies in the club’s complicated history with its struggle for independence against a dictatorial regime. As a result of that history, “Barca” became a source of Catalan pride and a true symbol of resistance.

The club was founded in 1899 by Hans Gamper, who changed his first name to Juan after being seduced by the city of Barcelona. Barca quickly became successful in the following years, but politics soon got involved.

In the 1920s, the dictator Primo de Rivera was ruling over Spain, and the Catalans were never big fans of the central government. Noticing the sense of identity people took from supporting Barca, Gamper changed the official language of the club from the royal Castilian Spanish to the Catalan language. In 1925, when the crowd booed the Spanish national anthem before a game, de Rivera made his move and forcibly removed Gamper from office, who fell into depression and killed himself in 1930.

The years of the Spanish civil war were particularly painful for Barca as well. In 1936, the president of the club Josep Sunyol was murdered by pro-fascist because he supported Catalan independence. This episode is central to the memories of Catalans and Barca supporters. Today, with “Spain suffering economically and calls for independence on the rise, the club’s position as a nationalist symbol could grow ever more important alongside its triumphs on the pitch”.

Even today, it is not unusual to hear political chants in Camp Nou, Barca’s home stadium. Indeed, at precisely 17:14 of a game, you might hear the crowd shout “Independencia! Independencia!”. The timing here is very significant, for it was in 1714 that the Catalans lost a crucial war against the kingdom of Castille and signaled the beginning of their definite subordination to the central government.

F.C. Barcelona is thus a symbol of anti-fascism and democracy. Its tumultuous relationship with the central government in Madrid resulted in the club’s political significance. Its motto “Més que un club” (more than a club), has a heavy meaning and represents well Barca’s bond with the Catalan quest for independence.

F.C Barcelona’s business structure itself is a glimpse into the Catalan view of government. Unlike other big European clubs like Paris, Manchester, or Chelsea, which are either owned by rich Qatari statesmen, Saudi statesmen, or wealthy businessmen who call all the shots, Barcelona is owned by 143,000 members, who make decisions about the club through a democratic process:

“The club is an example to be followed,” Barcelona member Marta Ferre said. “We, as members, have the right to decide about our future, and the residents here in Catalonia want the same thing.”

Even players like Gerard Piqué publicly voiced their support for Catalonia’s independence, which caused him to get booed by fans of the Spanish national team. All of this points to the political role that F.C Barcelona plays in Spain. As the club reached unprecedented success in the last two decades, its vitrine of the Catalan struggle attracted even more supporters. Fans of Barcelona all around the world feel a connection with the club’s history. As I fan of this club myself, I know what I am talking about. At a young age, I got caught up in the rivalry with Madrid, the “King’s club”. This is the sort of thing you cannot escape if you decide to embark on this journey. Barcelona is Catalonia, and even you are only attracted to Barcelona’s sports results, you will inevitably get to see the politics involved.

Today, F.C. Barcelona is in the middle of a huge sporting and financial crisis. The appointment of Xavi as head coach is seen as the dawn of new age. The expectations are extremely high for this former player, who reached legendary status as he lifted virtually every trophy he possibly could. Xavi is considered to be the one who will re-establish the famous Barcelona way of playing, which used terrorized the biggest teams in Europe. The desperate quest for a strong identity on the pitch reflects this need for a “Barcelona exceptionalism”. In other words, the strong sense of distancing themselves from the mainstream and uniquely asserting themselves. This is what the Catalan struggle has been about: a fight against the establishment in hope of realizing a dream that would echo in the four corners of the world for generations to come.  

Notion of Otherness in Europe

D.Khaznadji

The current migration issue sparked numerous debates in Europe, and it has of course provided far-right groups with new fuel for their ideological purposes. Kalmar uses the case of Hungary to show how Islamophobia became a tool for perpetuating attitudes that were rooted in antisemitism. This new “anti-antisemitism”, where far-right leaders distance themselves from antisemitism and embrace islamophobia, can be exemplified by the coining of the term “Islamo-gauchsime”. This term is especially popular in France and refers to the two enemies the far-Right is fighting in Europe: Islam and the left. This is very reminiscent of the term “judo-bolshevism”, which once again refers to the two enemies believed to be lethal to Europe: Judaism and communism. All of this is to say that Kalmar’s argument seemed pretty convincing to me. Today, it is not unusual to see far-right advocates going as far as voicing their support for Israel and at the same time treating Muslims as a problematic community that needs to be dealt with. 

Indeed, being a Muslim in the West can lead to an identity crisis. Trying to reconcile liberal, secular values with the traditionalism established in the private sphere can become exhausting. This leads to the belief that Islam is necessarily incompatible with Europe. What is overlooked here is that Islam is not in contradiction with culture, for as long as it does not oppose Islam’s fundamental rules. Thus, a European Muslim will have a European culture. It might sound obvious but I think it is important to say it. Right-wing groups in France make the mistake of associating Islam with north-African and Subsaharan culture. As Kalmar points out, people like the Bosnians are Muslims indigenous to Europe. History also has examples of a European Muslim state like al-Andalus, which was an example of inter-religious cohabitation. 

Turkey offers a good example of the clash between Islam and secularism. I found it interesting how Erdogan uses the notion of the Black Turk (the pious Muslim from the Anatolian provinces) as being oppressed by the White Turk (the secular, francophone from Istanbul). This racial form of populism allowed him to discredit his opponents in moments of crisis. And even though Turkey has been trying to become part of the EU, it should be noted that other ideologies are also becoming increasingly influential, such as Turkish and Turanism, which can make Turkey move away from Europe and turn to the East, more specifically to its Turkic relatives. 

Deconstructing Fear, a Vital Step

D.Khaznadji

For some reason, I want to start this week’s post by talking about the Godwin law, which states that any online debate that goes on for too long is bound to have a Nazi analogy at some point. This is clearly a testament to the omnipresence of Nazi horrors in the memory of people, but the readings this week, especially Molnar, are careful not to have such a simplistic view. 

Molnar traces the history of fear in postwar Germany and places it within a larger timeline that goes back to pre-World War II times. Fear, for Molnar, is what sustained democratic stability in Germany (495). The determination not to have the rise of a fourth Reich is what drove that fear. When it came to finding a scapegoat for that fear, asylum seekers were seen to be ideal candidates. The whole point of such high emotions in the hearts of Germans is the protection of the fatherland. Molnar interestingly points out that not unlike Nazi times, postwar Germans victimized themselves, and saw their very survival threatened by foreign invaders. 

Considering that Western states have been using that fear when conducting policies, I was able to better understand the context behind the emergence of the great replacement theory. Molnar makes it clear that those sentiments did not come out of the blue. When speaking of German attitudes toward Turkish laborers, he highlights the influence of the post-Ottoman world in shaping those attitudes. The influx of Turkish migrants becomes reminiscent of Ottoman expansionism into Europe. We saw many times this semester that right-wing ideologies are built upon particular historical moments, that are then twisted and used for a specific political agenda. 

Another thing I wished to discuss was the idea of “Racism without race”. I thought it was interesting how racism itself adapted to a post-war world, which once again resonates with what we saw about fascism evolving according to changing world order. The new form of racism that Molnar proposes focuses less on biological differences, but on cultural ones that are deemed as too fundamental to be reconciled (502). What surprised me is that it was even framed as a law of nature, in the sense that humans tend to gravitate towards similar individuals or groups of individuals, and that the addition of an alien individual to a homogenous group would only create problems. 

Despite this reformation of racism, the underlying fear remains the same. That is, barbarian foreigners, coming to disturb the peace of a civilized country. I would say the mistake that the majority of those fearing people make is the automatic association between religion and culture. Religion (at least the Abrahamic faiths) by definition are not bound by the concept of nationality. Someone can be Muslim and “white” at the same time. The likes of Le Pen or Zemmour believe that being Muslim necessarily means being Arab or non-European. The deconstruction of that fear is thus a priority. 

The Neofascist Revolution Behind the Scenes

D.Khaznadji

Once again, the readings from this week were in a lot of ways similar to the previous ones. The common theme here is fascism’s capacity to adapt according to the time. In week 4 we saw how Franco rebranded Spain as a beacon of freedom and hope in a world dominated by liberal democracies. He had to concede certain liberties to the people in order to keep his grip on power. The readings from week 5 showed how easily former Nazi officers were able to swiftly reintegrate society and occupy high offices. Here we are now in week 7, looking at the rise of neofascism, and how, despite promoting similar values than the “old-fashioned” one, had to adopt a different approach in the way it advertised itself.

Bland states that neofascism prioritize “demonstrating its antagonistic relationship with existing national and global power structures over asserting national and racial superiority” (Bland 113). Although national and racial superiority might have been looming in the background, the primary focus, prompted by the events of 1968, was the criticism of the systems in place, and to propose the introduction of a more authoritarian rule. This is what Amyot called the “strategy of tension”. This is very much a process that can be applied to Franco’s Spain. This example is perhaps even more telling, since we are dealing the same man over decades. 

I am now reminded of one of our earliest readings, one that made the difference between the military victory and the structural/systemic victory over fascism. The amyot reading showed just how much the systemic victory was just as important as the military one, if not more. As he points out, postwar Italy sill had people from the previous regime in high offices, the fascist legal code was still in use and the firms that thrived during the fascist era were still dominant (36). This is what allowed for the rise of neofascism.  

Another thing I think is relevant to talk about, is what Roger Griffin said about neofascism being a “faceless phenomenon” (Bland 113). By that, Griffin meant that neofascism became distinctively transnational in nature, less bent on national pride (again, needs of the time) in order to pose a viable opposition to liberal regimes. Now, we did see that the right depends heavily on universalism, no matter the era, so I was a bit confused at first as to why this particular aspect would set neofascism apart from its ideological parent. But since this new wave was built by the post-war world, it can be argued that even the transnationalism dimension of neofascism took a different approach. Griffin’s quote continues and explains that as a result of a changing world, “ideological coherence was prone to becoming an inevitably secondary concern.” (Bland 113). I think this is where the difference lies. I also think that it explains the doctrine of someone like Evola, who adopted a more cultural approach to fascism. Evola was concerned with the idea of Tradition, even borrowing from “exotic” religions to consolidate fascist ideals. Neofascism, I feel, is about grabbing whatever society threw and convert it (or at least try) into a powerful apparatus. 

Watching TV to Combat Hate Crime: The Case of Diriliş: Ertuğrul

D.Khaznadji

At the end of a day as summer camp counsellor last year, I was saying goodbye to the kids as their parents came to pick them up. A father then approached me and recognized my Ertuğrul theme ring. We immediately hit it off and started talking about the show and the characters. This interaction is part of a global fascination for a Turkish historical drama that shows (finally!) a positive portrayal of Muslims in mass media. 

The show in question, Diriliş: Ertuğrul (Resurrection: Ertugrul), sets in 13th century Anatolia. It portrays the story of Ertuğrul Ghazi and his quest to find a permanent homeland for his tribe. Ertuğrul Ghazi is the father of Osman I, who is remembered as being the first sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The first episode aired in 2014 and ever since, the show’s popularity is such that it was dubbed in six languages and broadcasted in 72 countries. Being particularly successful in the Muslim countries, the audience in the West was however not immune to this growing fascination, as evidenced by my own experience in the summer camp. 

So what makes Diriliş: Ertuğrul so contagious? A big part of the answer is the way Muslims are portrayed. They are the centre of the show, and are shown is a very positive light. The characters are, amongst other things, courageous; respectful of elders; and compassionate. Most importantly, they are proud of their identity. 

Considering that most of the muslim representation in Hollywood is still, sadly, very stereotypical, one can understand how seeing a brave warrior fighting for justice would be a good change from your usual terrorist, cab driver or simple extra. Indeed, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a report suggesting that the overly stereotypical portrayal of Muslims in mass media as foreigners and threats could be a significant factor in the rise of hate crimes against Muslims. The causes are complex of course, and I am not trying to reduce the problem to this sole cause, but I do believe, knowing the impressive power mass media can have, that it is part of the answer. 

The portrayal of women also marks a stark comparison with what we are used to see in Western productions. While the image of the weak, confused and oppressed muslim woman who needs to be rescued from her family is still being cultivated, Diriliş: Ertuğrul portrays women as strong warriors, wise leaders, competent doctors and skilled politicians. It is also not unusual to see Muslim women generally seen as potential romantic partners and nothing more, but Diriliş: Ertuğrul, while involving its fair share of romance, also includes scenes where women are voicing very strongly their refusal to marry someone, which once again moves away from the submissive image we are used to see. 

Which brings us back to an important concept: identity. As I explained above, the pejorative portrayal of Muslims, bolstered by mass media, contributes to the general idea of Muslims as alien. For Muslims living in the West, that can lead to a real identity crisis. How to reconcile the values they learn when they are children with the way they are seen on TV? How to deal with the pressure to conform to that flawed view? What a show like Diriliş: Ertuğrul can do is reclaim Muslim identity. Associate professor at Bilgi university in Istanbul Burak Ozcetin explains that “in times of crisis in particular, history plays an important role in the creation of identities”. Characters in Ertuğrul find their strength in their faith, and would not trade it for all the wealth that this Earth contains. Such a powerful message, combined with the vitrine it acquired, can help in shifting not only the perceptions of non-Muslims on Muslims, but also of Muslims about themselves. This is in my opinion, what makes this show so successful. 

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that Muslims can be things other than terrorists or cab drivers. Limiting ourselves to these options when we make TV productions only perpetuates a flawed notion that only fuels anti-Muslim sentiments. Mass media is such a powerful instrument in these modern times, why not use it for a more positive outcome? Seeing the impact of a show like Diriliş: Ertuğrul, which despite being Turkish still found resonance in the West, there is definitely a case to make about the need for better Muslim representation in Western productions. 

The Right as International and Flexible

D.Khaznadji

Can I just start by saying how fascinating the reading on the Evolian imagination was? The attribution of mythical origins for the Aryans and of an early struggle in order to legitimize racist/fascist ideologies is, though familiar, nevertheless put in a particular light here. I feel like this is more “exotic” than your usual right-wing European movement. As Tobin asserts, Evola did not hesitate in flirting with Islam in his quest for Traditionalism. The interest in paganism also marks a difference with something like the great replacement theory, who vows to protect a Christian idea of Europe. I guess the conclusion here is that though the various right-wing groups in Europe have several similar themes, it would be wrong to consider them part of a uniform movement.

The reading on the French Nouvelle Droite (ND) was also interesting. It shows once again the capacity of right-wing ideas to adapt to the current times. The article points out that Benoist was willing to open dialogue with leftists to cultivate a “tolerant” image. In fact, the various sources of influence for the ND was what allowed them to have such a large audience; not just in France but much beyond. This relates to one of our earlier readings about the right depending on internationalism. Regardless of how much one claims to hate supra-national institutions, any movement will have to gain some sort of support abroad. That was true a century ago and it is true today. 

Indeed, the ND aims at building a “pan-national European Empire” who will supposedly serve as wall for the north-African and sub-Saharan “invaders”. It is honestly crazy how open French right leaning talk shows are about this. Various commentators and essayist like Eric Zemmour come and talk about how France and Europe needs to save themselves from those immigrants. The case of Zemmour is very ironic since he himself has Algerian origins. 

I am a little uncertain about the ND’s agenda to stand against the European Union in order to present a strong opposition to the US. Considering the EU has been struggling to achieve strategic autonomy — in other words be able to defend itself and launch missions without US support —, I am curious to see how the Right will adapt this time. 

Nazism’s Lessons and Legacies

D.Khaznadji

This week’s readings once again come to complicate our idea of fascism. Once thing I noticed while reading was how the postwar process was not uniform. Germany’s confrontation with its past was not the ‘obvious’ path I had imagined: there were several stages. The early phase saw a willingness to move on quickly from what happened, only to have a international community later one that wished to spend more time on it. When one does think about it a little more it does make sense. It is expected to have many ideas on how to process something so huge. The second thing was, which I guess was inevitable in an increasingly globalized world (and in this case a world shaped by Cold War dynamics), how this process affected not just Germany alone, but other countries like the US and the USSR to name only them. 

I was also able to make several connections with past readings. Reading about how former Nazis were able to reintegrate into the highest echelons of German society after the war reminded of fascism’s capacity to adapt itself according to the world it lives in. I am here thinking of the Crumbaugh article on prosperity and freedom under Franco. There are several differences between the two of course but both articles present a world that is supposedly “over” fascism, and so the remnants of this movement must be able to disguise themselves. This again re-emphasizes what we talked about in the previous weeks: namely how the military victory in 1945 was not enough in eradicating fascism, but an ideological and intellectual victory is needed as well. 

About the Moeller article, one important thing to keep in mind was how the movie Judgement at Nuremberg was intended to an American audience with a specific goal in mind. Indeed, Moeller states that the movie was about what the United States “should not become”. In order to serve this particular goal, he carefully chose which cases from the actual trials he was gonna put on screen. I also thought the choice of setting the trials in 1935 and not 1941 was very interesting. As Moeller points out, this was done with the goal of illustrating a Germany that was not that different than the United States, highlighting the idea that what happened in Germany could just as well happen to America if we were not careful enough. The White House’s attempt to block the broadcast of the movie only reinforced this idea for me.

This connects with another idea seen in previous weeks: how history can sometimes be used to pick and choose certain episodes that fits an agenda, whatever it may be. Once again the circumstances here are different, but the process remains the same regardless of the purpose or the outcome. 

The Complexity of Fascism

D. Khaznadji

One of the things we mentioned last week was the complexity of fascism, that it is not black and white. I think the readings from this week exemplified this idea once again. We talked about the internationalism of fascism, that despite its emphasis on nationalism, it still needed to maintain foreign relations in order to survive. Reading the adaptation efforts made by the Francoist regime reminded me of just that. In this post World War II world, Franco was surrounded by liberal democracies. In order to maintain his grip on power, he had to make his country look more progressive. In the words of Crumbaugh, “Spain was now the nation chosen not only by God but also by millions of foreign consumers” (Crumbaugh 19). I think that the Foucauldian framework enables us to paint a much more complex picture of fascism, a more subtle one. For power is not centred around one individual anymore, but is being dispersed through many institutions.

It is in this context of fascist refinement that Spain and the United States made an alliance. In their struggle against communism, the Americans saw Spain as a necessary ally. This shows the pragmatism that reigns in political alliances, as here we do not have two fascist states flirting with each other anymore, but an official relationship between a fascist state and a liberal one. I think it is an additional good example of what we discussed last week. 

This is the sort thing that we can notice once we shift our attention from how we see fascists to how they see themselves. The other articles discussed how people in Nazi Germany protected their identity, thereby showing a sense of agency. Whether it is soldiers being able to incorporate feminine attributes to their “hard” personalities, or women covering up their homosexuality, it shows once again that fascism is not black or white. It is a complex system that was the theatre of many different citizen-state interactions, and thus must be carefully studied.